François Le Vau (French pronunciation: [fʁɑ̃swa vo]; 1624[1] – 4 July 1676) was a French architect and a founding member of the Académie Royale d'Architecture (established in 1671). He is also known for being the youngest brother of the more famous French architect, Louis Le Vau.

François Le Vau
Oil on canvas portrait in color
Presumed portrait of François Le Vau
(detail from a portrait with his father)
François Le Veau

Died(1676-07-04)4 July 1676
Notable work

Early life and training


Born François Le Veau, he was the youngest son of Louis Le Veau, a mason who died in February 1661,[2] and Étiennette Louette, who died in December 1644.[3] In the late 1630s and early 1640s, François trained with his older brother Louis, and both brothers worked together with their father, building houses on the Île Saint-Louis. In 1638 his brother Louis changed the spelling of his surname to Le Vau to avoid the lower-class stigma of "Le Veau" ("the calf"). François followed suit several years later.[4] All his life François worked in the shadow of his brother Louis,[5] who was very successful, becoming Premier Architecte du Roi after the death of Jacques Lemercier in 1654.[6]

Early career


François Le Vau is described as "architecq Ingenieur du Roy" in 1648, suggesting he may also have been involved in designing fortifications.[7] He began working more independently of his brother around the time of the Fronde (1648–1653), when he became an architect in the Bâtiments du Roi and the architect of a participant in the Fronde, Anne Marie Louise d'Orléans, Duchess of Montpensier. He designed her apartments in the Tuileries Palace (before 1652; destroyed);[8] remodeled the interior courtyard and her apartment in her Château de Saint-Fargeau (1652–1657; restored after a fire in 1752), where she resided during her exile;[9] and later remodeled her apartments in the Palais du Luxembourg (1662; destroyed).[10]

He also worked for other Frondeurs, "supporters of the losing side who were slipping into political obscurity."[8] He designed and added apartments for the townhouses of Maximilien de Béthune, Duke of Sully (Hôtel de Sully; 1651); Louis de La Rivière (Hôtel de La Rivière [fr] on the Place Royale; 1652); and Armand-Charles de la Porte, Duke of La Meilleraye (in the Arsenal de Paris [fr], begun 1654; destroyed).[8]

He also designed for high-level government officials: for Jérôme de Nouveau, Grand Maître des Postes, he rebuilt the Château de Lignières (Cher) [fr] (1654–1660); for Charles-Henry de Malon, he designed the Château de Bercy (after 1658–c. 1668; destroyed during the Second Empire); for Charles de Sainte-Maure, Duke of Montausier, he made modifications to the Château de Rambouillet (begun 1659); and for Louis de Rochechouart, he created the Montpipaux project.[11] He has also been credited with the design of the Château de Sucy-en-Brie [fr] (begun 1660) for Nicolas Lambert (who in 1644 had inherited from his brother Jean-Baptiste the Hôtel Lambert, built by Louis Le Vau in 1640–1644).[12]

At some point in this part of his career, François Le Vau visited Rome, probably before 1662–1663, when he joined the office of Bridges and Roads.[13]

Work for Colbert


In 1662, François Le Vau began to work in the royal office of the Ponts et Chaussées (Bridges and Roads) under Louis XIV's minister Jean-Baptiste Colbert. This work continued until 1673.[14]

Project for the east façade of the Louvre


Around the end of 1662, Colbert asked François Le Vau to prepare a design for the east facade of the Louvre, which François offered to present to Colbert in a letter of 4 December 1664.[15] A large presentation drawing (Nationalmuseum, Stockholm; undated)[16] and several engravings of designs by François, one by Isaac Durant and several by Claude Olry de Loriande,[17] have been identified by several architectural historians as belonging to the project described in the letter of December 1664.[18] The design is similar to the scheme that was eventually adopted in many important respects, in particular a trabeated, free-standing colonnade of coupled columns raised above the ground floor.[19] The drawing shows two alternatives for an attic story (omitted as executed), with arched windows on the left (matching those of Pierre Lescot's Pavillon du Roi) and rectangular windows on the right.[20]

The dating of François Le Vau's Louvre project to 1662–1664[18] has been disputed by some authors, who suggest it was actually created sometime after 14 May 1667, when Louis XIV selected the colonnaded design proposed to him by the Petit Conseil, but before the decision to double the width of the south wing in the spring of 1668.[21] Claude Perrault's brother Charles Perrault claimed in his memoirs that Claude was the sole author of the colonnade design.[22]

In 1670, when much of the facade was substantially completed, Olry de Loriande published a poem, Le superbe dessein du Louvre, in which, according to the architectural historian Robert W. Berger, he credits François Le Vau with the design. It begins with the following lines:

O Palace, the most attractive in the universe,
True miracle of art, worthy of the most beautiful verses,
Since the profound wisdom of the great Colbert
Destines you to be a masterpiece of the world,
And since according to the designs of the famous Le Vau,
I have engraved your marvelous picture on copper;
I want to portray you anew in this book,
Since my hand knows the arts of engraving and writing.[23]

Late career

Interior of the Église Saint-Louis-en-l'Île (begun 1664)

It is now thought that François Le Vau created the initial designs for the Église Saint-Louis-en-l'Île,[24] formerly attributed to Louis Le Vau.[25] Begun in 1664, only the sanctuary and part of the choir had been completed at the time of François's death in 1676. Further construction was carried out by Gabriel Le Duc [fr].[24] In 1667 François created a project for the south portal of the transept of the Cathédrale d'Orléans.[26]

In 1664–1665, according to the Comptes des Bâtiments, François Le Vau received an "exceptional" salary of 3,467 livres, as well as 1,000 livres per year as an architect in the Bâtiments du Roi. In 1671, he became one of the eight founding members of the Académie Royale d'Architecture (created by Louis XIV), for which he was paid an additional 500 livres per year.[27]

On 15 July 1675 the members of the Académie Royale d'Architecture gathered in the church of the Collège des Quatre-Nations to consider three alternative locations for Cardinal Mazarin's tomb: centered under the dome (as originally intended by Louis Le Vau, the architect of the Collège); in the altar on the right side; or in a niche in the far (west) wall, opposite the courtyard entrance. In March 1676 they submitted their opinions (avis). François was one of the majority opposing a location under the dome, because, as he put it, "this church is not a mausoleum, like the Valois Chapel", thus disagreeing with the premise of his brother's design and (according to the architectural historian Hilary Ballon) "giving vent to rivalrous feelings that evidently outlasted Louis's lifetime."[28]

François Le Vau died at his residence (today 49, quai de Bourbon) at the western tip of the Île-Saint-Louis in Paris.[29]


  1. ^ Cojannot 2012, p. 341. François Le Vau's year of birth has formerly been given as 1613, one year after that of his brother Louis Le Vau (for examples, see, Hautecoeur 1948, p. 114; Laprade 1960, p. 63; Berger 1982, p. 695), but an unpublished discovery by Dietrich Feldmann revealed that François was actually born more than a decade later, c. 1624. His year of birth is given as 1623 by Felkay 1983, p. 264 (citing Feldmann), and by Berger 1993, p. 16 (citing Felkay). Feldmann's short biography of François Le Vau in The Dictionary of Art gives "?1624" (Feldmann 1996, p. 267). Cojannot 2012, p. 15, cites an inventory of their mother's possessions, dated 16 December 1648 (Archives nationales, Minutier central, XII.89), which states that at the time of her death François was still a minor. Apparently the brothers objected to the procedure a few days later "parce qu'il n'y a aulcuns mineurs de lad. deffuncte leur mère". Cojannot explains that François was a minor at the time of their mother's death in December 1644, but had reached the age of 25 in 1648.
  2. ^ Feldmann 1996, p. 262.
  3. ^ Cojannot 2012, p. 15, note 24.
  4. ^ Feldmann 1996, pp. 262; Ballon 1999, p. 93.
  5. ^ Ballon 1999, pp. 70, 93.
  6. ^ Feldmann 1996, p. 264.
  7. ^ Described as "architecq Ingenieur du Roy", when he acted as godfather at the baptism of the daughter of the architect Pierre Cottard [fr] on 30 September 1648 (Berger 1993, p. 16, citing Fichier Laborde, nouv. acq. franç. 12072, fol. 13726, Manuscrits, Bibliothèque nationale).
  8. ^ a b c Feldmann 1996, p. 267.
  9. ^ Feldmann 1996, p. 267. Felkay 1983, p. 264; Berger 1993, p. 16; Laprade 1960, p. 85.
  10. ^ Feldmann 1996, p. 267; Hautecoeur 1948, pp. 114–115.
  11. ^ Feldmann 1996, pp. 267–268; Berger 1993, p. 16; Berger 1982, p. 695; Laprade 1960, plates III; Hautecoeur 1948, pp. 115–117.
  12. ^ Blunt 1957, p. 266 (note 8); Babelon 1976; Berger 1982; Feldmann 1996, pp. 267–268.
  13. ^ Berger 1993, p. 18.
  14. ^ Berger 1993, p. 17.
  15. ^ Transcription published by Berger 1993, p. 125, based on Laprade 1960, p. 137, and "somewhat less accurately" by Jal 1867, p. 787.
  16. ^ The Stockholm drawing is reproduced by Anthony Blunt (1957, plate 155A); Albert Laprade (1960, plate 2, chapter VI), who attributes the drawing to François d'Orbay; Tadgell 1980, figure 66; Pérouse de Montclos 1989, fig. 288; Berger 1993, figures 24–27; Berger 1994, fig. 18; Gargiani 1998, fig. 166; Blunt & Beresford 1999, p. 219; and Petzet 2000, fig. 62.
  17. ^ The engravings are conserved in the Bibliothèque nationale de France, Département des estampes et photographie, Va 217a (see Notice bibliographique). They were first discussed by Louis Hautecoeur [fr] (Hautecoeur 1924, elevation of the central pavilion, variant 2, on p. 153, plan on p. 157, text on pp. 158–159).
  18. ^ a b Hautecoeur 1924, pp. 158–159; Hautecoeur 1927, pp. 148, 167; Hautecoeur 1948, pp. 120, 275; Berger 1970, p. 396; Berger 1982, p. 695; Picon 1988, pp. 162–163; Pérouse de Montclos 1989, fig. 288; Berger 1993, pp. 13–14; Feldmann, 1996, p. 268; Neumann 2013, p. 297. Petzet 2000, who gives "1664?" in the picture caption (Fig. 62), allows that a later date ("1667/68?", p. 53) is possible, but describes the drawing as a member of the series of French rival projects from 1664.
  19. ^ Hautecoeur 1924, p. 159; Blunt 1957, p. 279, note 28; Berger 1993, p. 15.
  20. ^ Berger 1993, p. 15.
  21. ^ Tadgell 1980, p. 333; Gargiani 1998, fig. 166; Cojannot 2003, p. 237. Anthony Blunt (1957, p. 279, note 28) says "the evidence about the date is uncertain"; Richard Beresford, in his revision of Blunt's book, gives "c. 1668 (?)" (Blunt & Beresford 1999, p. 219 (figure 270); also p. 294, note 22). Tadgell inexplicably repeats in several places that Louis XIV selected the colonnade design on 13 May, yet the registre clearly states he selected it the following day. For the relevant passage of the registre, see Berger 1993, p. 123: "Le 13. Mai l'ordre vint de porter ces desseins à saint Germain, où n'ayant pû montrés à Sa Majesté le même jour, ils lui furent présentés le lendemain par Monseigneur le Surintendant qui expliqua à Sa Majesté tous les avantages de l'un & de l'autre de ces desseins. [On May 13, the order came to take these designs to Saint Germain, where, not having been shown to His Majesty the same day, they were presented to him the next day by Monsignor the Superintendent who explained to His Majesty all the advantages of the one and the other of these designs.]"
  22. ^ Tadgell 1980, p. 331; Berger 1993, p. 21.
  23. ^ Quoted and translated by Berger 1993, p. 19 (emphasis added by Berger): "Palais le plus charmant quit soit dans l'Univers, / Vray miracle de l'Art digne des plus beaux vers, / Puisque du grand Colbert la sagesse profonde / Te destine pour estre un chef d'oeuvre du monde, / Et que sur les desseins de l'illustre le Vau, / En cuivre j'ay gravé ton merveilleux Tableau; / Je te veux derechef dépeindre en ce volume, / Puisque ma main sçait l'Art du fer, & de la plume."
  24. ^ a b Blunt & Beresford 1999, p. 288, note 48; Saint-Louis-en-l'Île : Historique de l’Eglise".
  25. ^ Hautecoeur 1948, pp. 94–96; Pérouse de Montclos 1994, p. 464.
  26. ^ Laprade 1960, chapter 3, plate 6 (before p. 65); also reproduced in Georges Chenesseau (1921), SainteCroix d'Orléans: Histoire d'une cathédrale gothique. Paris: Édouard Champion. Fig. 74 at the Internet Archive.
  27. ^ Felkay 1983, p. 264.
  28. ^ Ballon 1999, p. 70. Louis Le Vau died in 1670.
  29. ^ Dumolin 1931, pp. 97, 247; maps after p. 172.


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